The Deceptive Marketing of ‘Body of Lies’

Nope, the well dressed gentleman behind Leo is NOT the villain
Photo: Warner Bros.

I had very low expectations when I walked into Body of Lies last night. The trailers I had seen online told me nothing and to be honest I really had no idea what kind of film to expect. The New York Times told me to expect a film about the Middle East yet the trailers only occasionally mention terrorism, show a few random explosions, helicopter chases and a lot of phone calls between Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. If I went based off the trailers I would think I was getting an Enemy of the State style Verizon commercial… Can you hear me now?

The “Times” article I linked to above implies Warner Bros. is gambling with a return to the Mideast. However, based on the marketing you might not actually realize it.

The latest TV spot I saw said nothing about the story, it simply flashed a bunch of action sequences and interlaced critical quotes. When I saw a quote from E!’s Ben Lyons, the critical quote whore of the next generation, I assumed I was in for one hell of an awful movie. Guess what, I wasn’t.

Body of Lies is a damn good film hidden behind a bunch of crap marketing trying to trick audiences into thinking it is much more than a film about terrorism or having anything to do with Iraq. In all honesty I don’t think the film ever does set foot in Iraq as most of the time is focused Amman, Jordan while bouncing around to other various parts of the world, sort of like a Tom Clancy novel without all the pomp.

I won’t go too deep into the film right now, but suffice to say it takes a rather broad look at a wide range of American involvement in the Middle East and our attitude and treatment of the people living there and working for the United States, in this case the CIA. It does a fantastic job of drawing the distinction between the guys doing the work (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the guys pulling the trigger from their comfy office chairs or perhaps a kids’ soccer game (Russell Crowe). However, will audiences be tricked enough into seeing the film? Do they need to be tricked? Will names such as DiCaprio and Crowe be enough to draw an audience? How about director Ridley Scott and recent Oscar winning screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed)? Do they have any draw?

Monahan describes Crowe’s character, Ed Hoffman, saying he is “the American bureaucrat who never does anything right and never gets punished for it. You can put him anywhere you like — executive, editor, your boss down at the sewer department. One of those guys who manages to rise and rise while never actually accomplishing anything. He doesn’t reflect the C.I.A. He’s not a C.I.A. archetype. I think he’s an American archetype. I quite like him.”

The interesting thing with this film is that it is about so much more than war against terrorism as much as it is about the people involved and their actual involvement with the environment and one another, but it is hard to get that across in a trailer and depending on what reviews people read and how they read could be a big decider in the success of a film such as Body of Lies. The film is probably best described as Enemy of the State meets The Kingdom directed by the man who brought you Black Hawk Down. It’s Ridley Scott channeling his brother Tony without the music video acid trip Tony likes to bring to his films. In short, this is a controlled thriller that looks fantastic and moves at a quick clip, which is to say it is a Ridley Scott film. Unfortunately the film does touch upon an area where films such as Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs and The Kingdom have been buried in the sand without a soul out to see them.

Ridley Scott goes on to say the film “could have happened anytime in the last 35 years, going back into Beirut. Or it could be the cold war.” That is a film I want to see, bring me a little Cold War action, but you won’t have the cool sky cam or cell phones so that may be a bit of a bummer.

I was a champion of The Kingdom and I will again recommend you see Body of Lies. The film has already received positive reviews from The Hollywood Reporter and the New Yorker and I expect even more good reviews to roll in.

Body of Lies hits theaters on October 10, watch the trailer again below, but if you are looking for the film’s main villain you won’t find him and as a matter of fact, I wasn’t able to find a picture of him anywhere online. It appears he may actually be more elusive than Osama bin Laden!